A Wayne County probate judge rescinded Monday his threat to cite an attorney with criminal contempt for allegedly divulging confidential details about the squabble over the estate of casino mogul Don Barden to the Free Press.
Judge Terrance Keith also said he planned to withdraw his professional misconduct complaint with the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission against Farmington Hills lawyer Steven Cohen, saying Cohen and his lawyer had satisfied his concerns and demands about Cohen’s conduct.
But Keith didn’t explain how Cohen had satisfied those concerns and wouldn’t respond to a request to elaborate after Monday’s court hearing. His action came after nearly four hours of behind-the-scenes discussions spanning two days with Cohen and his lawyer, Jill Schinske of Lake Orion.
Keith threatened Cohen with contempt on July 13, saying Cohen had made outlandish and unsubstantiated claims in a failed effort to invalidate Barden’s trust. Cohen also said in court papers that Wayne County Probate Court operates according to an unwritten playbook that allows favored lawyers to gouge estates with excessive legal fees.
Schinske had urged Keith in court papers to rescind his contempt threat and disqualify himself and the entire Wayne County Probate Court bench from proceeding against Cohen.
She said Keith had failed to file the necessary paperwork advising Cohen specifically of what he had done wrong. She also told Keith that he was placing himself in the conflicting roles of being Cohen’s accuser, material witness and judge.
Cohen represents Barden siblings Helen Robinson and Douglas Barden. He filed court papers in April alleging “gross irregularities” in the handling of Barden’s estate.
Among other things, Cohen questioned why Barden would award the bulk of his estate to his estranged wife, Bella Marshall, with whom Barden feuded before his death from lung cancer last year at age 67.
Marshall, a former top finance official for the City of Detroit and Wayne County, died in May at 62.
Cohen said the trust also designated a large share of the estate to Marshall’s daughter, Alana Barden, but eliminated any share for Don Barden Jr., his son from a previous marriage. Cohen said the son cared for his father until he died.
Keith said Cohen offered no facts to back up his claims and ordered him to pay legal fees to opposing lawyers who had to respond to his allegations.
Judge withdraws threat to cite attorney with contempt in Don Barden estate case
July 31, 2012
Detroit Free Press